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Israelis take to streets, bridges to protest secret UAE oil deal

FM Lapid, outside whose home some of the protesters gather, pledges ‘thorough, deep, serious examination’ by government before decision on future of agreement

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Protesters against an oil deal with an Israeli -UAE consortium demonstrate outside Foreign Minister Yair Lapid's house in Ramat Aviv on September 25, 2021. (Coalition Against the EAPC deal)
Protesters against an oil deal with an Israeli -UAE consortium demonstrate outside Foreign Minister Yair Lapid's house in Ramat Aviv on September 25, 2021. (Coalition Against the EAPC deal)

Hundreds of Israelis turned out at some 50 locations Saturday to protest insufficient state action on climate change, as well as a deal between a state company and an Israeli-United Arab Emirates consortium to channel Gulf oil through Israel, to reach European markets.

Israeli youth demonstrate regularly on Fridays, as part of the global Fridays4Future movement, while Parents for the Climate – Israel man street corners and bridges over highways on Saturdays.

The demonstration against the Europe Asia Pipeline Company deal took place while an interministerial committee in the Prime Minister’s Office conducted a review of the agreement signed last October.

The deal provides for the EAPC to receive Gulf oil at its Red Sea terminal in Eilat, in southern Israel, and channel it overland through pipes to its Mediterranean port at Ashkelon, on the southern coast, where it would be loaded onto tankers bound for southern Europe.

It is opposed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, a forum of some 20 environmental organizations (6,500 people have signed a petition), and scores of scientists and Eilat residents. Among the causes for concern are EAPC’s poor environmental record and numerous past leaks — it was responsible, six years ago, for the largest environmental disaster in Israel’s history.

Another factor is the importance of Eilat’s coral reefs, not only to the city’s tourism and employment sectors, but also globally. Eilat’s corals are proving to be unusually resilient to ocean warming, and could be used to rehabilitate reefs that cannot cope, elsewhere in the world.

Eilat Mayor Eli Lankri (in white shirt) addresses a demonstration against an oil deal with an Israeli-UAE consortium, September 25, 2021. (Or Moshe, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel)

Opponents of the deal have also drawn attention to the dangers that an oil spill at the EAPC port in Ashkelon could pose for the country’s desalination facilities, Israel’s main source of drinking water, in addition to the risks of carcinogenic pollutants being released into the air during the loading and unloading of crude oil.

The EAPC has refused to divulge details about the agreement, and it remains unclear whether anyone in the government saw it before it was signed.

In north Tel Aviv, demonstrators gathered in front of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s home. Lapid responded via his Facebook page that, had he been at home, he would have gone out to meet with them.

Pointing out that the deal was signed under the previous government, and that it was the Prime Minister’s Office and not the Foreign Ministry that was examining the issue “with extreme care,” he said he assumed that the protesters, “Israeli patriots” in his eyes, understood that the state must take seriously agreements signed by previous governments.

The Europe Asia Pipeline Company’s oil boom in Eilat, designed to catch any potential oil spill before it leaks more broadly into the sea. (Courtesy EAPC)

That said, he acknowledged that it was “still important to make sure that if mistakes were made in the past, we will try to correct them.”

Lapid went on: “I don’t know what the decision of the interministerial committee will be, but all the sides — the UAE, the relevant government ministries, the environmental organizations — will want to know that a thorough, deep, serious examination has been carried out before decisions are reached.”

He added, “We will make sure that nobody tries to approve a decision beneath the radar while the examination is going on, and when conclusions are reached, we will ensure that they are transparent for the public to see.”

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